The resistance to destruction of spores of Bacillus subtilis var. niger occluded in crystals of calcium carbonate and exposed to ethylene oxide and moist and dry heat was determined and compared with the destruction of unoccluded spores. Occluded spores could not be inactivated with ethylene oxide. Resistance to inactivation was approximately 900 and 9 times higher for occluded than for unoccluded spores subjected to moist and dry heat, respectively, at 121 C. The protective effect may be due either to the unavailability of oxygen for destruction by oxidation or to inhibition of the loss of essential cell constituents by vaporization. Evidence also implicates the crystal structure as a thermal conductivity barrier. Occluded spores retained viability over a 3-year period compared with unoccluded spores which decreased over 90% during this period. Occluded spores in insoluble materials are seldom encountered in the technology of sterilization, but could be the most critical factor in the sterilization of interplanetary vehicles. Entrapped spores in insoluble materials are usually difficult to detect, and are very stable as well as extremely resistant to destruction by heat and ethylene oxide.
Raman spectroscopy and differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy were used to monitor the kinetics of nutrient and nonnutrient germination of multiple individual untreated and wet-heat-treated spores of Bacillus cereus and Bacillus megaterium, as well as of several isogenic Bacillus subtilis strains. Major conclusions from this work were as follows. (i) More than 90% of these spores were nonculturable but retained their 1:1 chelate of Ca2+ and dipicolinic acid (CaDPA) when incubated in water at 80 to 95°C for 5 to 30 min. (ii) Wet-heat treatment significantly increased the time, Tlag, at which spores began release of the great majority of their CaDPA during the germination of B. subtilis spores with different nutrient germinants and also increased the variability of Tlag values. (iii) The time period, ΔTrelease, between Tlag and the time, Trelease, at which a spore germinating with nutrients completed the release of the great majority of its CaDPA, was also increased in wet-heat-treated spores. (iv) Wet-heat-treated spores germinating with nutrients had higher values of Irelease, the intensity of a spore's DIC image at Trelease, than did untreated spores and had much longer time periods, ΔTlys, for the reduction in Irelease intensities to the basal value due to hydrolysis of the spore's peptidoglycan cortex, probably due at least in part to damage to the cortex-lytic enzyme CwlJ. (v) Increases in Tlag and ΔTrelease were also observed when wet-heat-treated B. subtilis spores were germinated with the nonnutrient dodecylamine, while the change in Irelease was less significant. (vi) The effects of wet-heat treatment on nutrient germination of B. cereus and B. megaterium spores were generally similar to those on B. subtilis spores. These results indicate that (i) some proteins important in spore germination are damaged by wet-heat treatment, (ii) the cortex-lytic enzyme CwlJ is one germination protein damaged by wet heat, and (iii) the CaDPA release process itself seems likely to be the target of wet-heat damage which has the greatest effect on spore germination.
The space environment contains high-energy charged particles (e.g., protons, neutrons, electrons, α-particles, heavy ions) emitted by the Sun and galactic sources or trapped in the radiation belts. Protons constitute the majority (87%) of high-energy charged particles. Spores of Bacillus species are one of the model systems used for astro- and radiobiological studies. In this study, spores of different Bacillus subtilis strains were used to study the effects of high energetic proton irradiation on spore survival. Spores of the wild-type B. subtilis strain [mutants deficient in the homologous recombination (HR) and non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) DNA repair pathways and mutants deficient in various spore structural components such as dipicolinic acid (DPA), α/β-type small, acid-soluble spore protein (SASP) formation, spore coats, pigmentation, or spore core water content] were irradiated as air-dried multilayers on spacecraft-qualified aluminum coupons with 218 MeV protons [with a linear energy transfer (LET) of 0.4 keV/μm] to various final doses up to 2500 Gy. Spores deficient in NHEJ- and HR-mediated DNA repair were significantly more sensitive to proton radiation than wild-type spores, indicating that both HR and NHEJ DNA repair pathways are needed for spore survival. Spores lacking DPA, α/β-type SASP, or with increased core water content were also significantly more sensitive to proton radiation, whereas the resistance of spores lacking pigmentation or spore coats was essentially identical to that of the wild-type spores. Our results indicate that α/β-type SASP, core water content, and DPA play an important role in spore resistance to high-energy proton irradiation, suggesting their essential function as radioprotectants of the spore interior. Key Words: Bacillus—Spores—DNA repair—Protection—High-energy proton radiation. Astrobiology 12, 1069–1077.
The Bacillus subtilis spore has long been used as a surface display system with potential applications in a variety of fields ranging from mucosal vaccine delivery, bioremediation and biocatalyst development. More recently, a non-recombinant approach of spore display has been proposed and heterologous proteins adsorbed on the spore surface. We used the well-characterized β-galactosidase from the thermoacidophilic bacterium Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius as a model to study enzyme adsorption, to analyze whether and how spore-adsorption affects the properties of the enzyme and to improve the efficiency of the process.
We report that purified β-galactosidase molecules were adsorbed to purified spores of a wild type strain of B. subtilis retaining ca. 50% of their enzymatic activity. Optimal pH and temperature of the enzyme were not altered by the presence of the spore, that protected the adsorbed β-galactosidase from exposure to acidic pH conditions. A collection of mutant strains of B. subtilis lacking a single or several spore coat proteins was compared to the isogenic parental strain for the adsorption efficiency. Mutants with an altered outermost spore layer (crust) were able to adsorb 60-80% of the enzyme, while mutants with a severely altered or totally lacking outer coat adsorbed 100% of the β-galactosidase molecules present in the adsorption reaction.
Our results indicate that the spore surface structures, the crust and the outer coat layer, have an negative effect on the adhesion of the β-galactosidase. Electrostatic forces, previously suggested as main determinants of spore adsorption, do not seem to play an essential role in the spore-β-galactosidase interaction. The analysis of mutants with altered spore surface has shown that the process of spore adsorption can be improved and has suggested that such improvement has to be based on a better understanding of the spore surface structure. Although the molecular details of spore adsorption have not been fully elucidated, the efficiency of the process and the pH-stability of the adsorbed molecules, together with the well documented robustness and safety of spores of B. subtilis, propose the spore as a novel, non-recombinant system for enzyme display.
The Bacillus subtilis-group and the Bacillus cereus-group are two well-studied groups of species in the genus Bacillus. Bacteria in this genus can produce a highly resistant cell type, the spore, which is encased in a complex protective protein shell called the coat. Spores in the B. cereus-group contain an additional outer layer, the exosporium, which encircles the coat. The coat in B. subtilis spores possesses inner and outer layers. The aim of this study is to investigate whether differences in the spore structures influenced the divergence of the coat protein genes during the evolution of these two Bacillus species groups.
We designed and implemented a computational framework to compare the evolutionary histories of coat proteins. We curated a list of B. subtilis coat proteins and identified their orthologs in 11 Bacillus species based on phylogenetic congruence. Phylogenetic profiles of these coat proteins show that they can be divided into conserved and labile ones. Coat proteins comprising the B. subtilis inner coat are significantly more conserved than those comprising the outer coat. We then performed genome-wide comparisons of the nonsynonymous/synonymous substitution rate ratio, dN/dS, and found contrasting patterns: Coat proteins have significantly higher dN/dS in the B. subtilis-group genomes, but not in the B. cereus-group genomes. We further corroborated this contrast by examining changes of dN/dS within gene trees, and found that some coat protein gene trees have significantly different dN/dS between the B subtilis-clade and the B. cereus-clade.
Coat proteins in the B. subtilis- and B. cereus-group species are under contrasting selective pressures. We speculate that the absence of the exosporium in the B. subtilis spore coat effectively lifted a structural constraint that has led to relaxed negative selection pressure on the outer coat.
Bacillus; Spore coat; Phylogenetic profiles
To determine roles of coats in staining Bacillus subtilis spores, and whether spores have membrane potential.
Methods and results
Staining by four dyes and autofluorescence of B. subtilis spores that lack some (cotE, gerE) or most (cotE gerE) coat protein was measured. Wild-type, cotE and gerE spores autofluoresced and bound dyes, but cotE gerE spores did not autofluoresce and were stained only by two dyes. A membrane potential-sensitive dye DiOC6(3) bound to dormant B. megaterium and B. subtilis spores. While this binding was abolished by the protonophore FCCP, DiOC6(3) bound to heat-killed spores, but not to dormant B. subtilis cotE gerE spores. However, DiOC6(3) bound well to all germinated spores.
The autofluorescence of dormant B. subtilis spores and the binding of some dyes are due to the coat. There is no membrane potential in dormant Bacillus spores, although membrane potential is generated when spores germinate.
Significance of the Study
The elimination of the autofluorescence of B. subtilis spores may allow assessment of the location of low abundance spore proteins using fluorescent reporter technology. The dormant spore’s lack of membrane potential may allow tests of spore viability by assessing membrane potential in germinating spores.
Bacillus; spores; spore staining; membrane potential; spore coat
The DNA in dormant spores of Bacillus species is saturated with a group of nonspecific DNA-binding proteins, termed alpha/beta-type small, acid-soluble spore proteins (SASP). These proteins alter DNA structure in vivo and in vitro, providing spore resistance to UV light. In addition, heat treatments (e.g., 85 degrees C for 30 min) which give little killing of wild-type spores of B. subtilis kill > 99% of spores which lack most alpha/beta-type SASP (termed alpha - beta - spores). Similar large differences in survival of wild-type and alpha - beta - spores were found at 90, 80, 65, 22, and 10 degrees C. After heat treatment (85 degrees C for 30 min) or prolonged storage (22 degrees C for 6 months) that gave > 99% killing of alpha - beta - spores, 10 to 20% of the survivors contained auxotrophic or asporogenous mutations. However, alpha - beta - spores heated for 30 min at 85 degrees C released no more dipicolinic acid than similarly heated wild-type spores (< 20% of the total dipicolinic acid) and triggered germination normally. In contrast, after a heat treatment (93 degrees C for 30 min) that gave > or = 99% killing of wild-type spores, < 1% of the survivors had acquired new obvious mutations, > 85% of the spore's dipicolinic acid had been released, and < 1% of the surviving spores could initiate spore germination. Analysis of DNA extracted from heated (85 degrees C, 30 min) and unheated wild-type spores and unheated alpha - beta - spores revealed very few single-strand breaks (< 1 per 20 kb) in the DNA. In contrast, the DNA from heated alpha- beta- spores had more than 10 single-strand breaks per 20 kb. These data suggest that binding of alpha/beta-type SASP to spore DNA in vivo greatly reduces DNA damage caused by heating, increasing spore heat resistance and long-term survival. While the precise nature of the initial DNA damage after heating of alpha- beta- spores that results in the single-strand breaks is not clear, a likely possibility is DNA depurination. A role for alpha/beta-type SASP in protecting DNA against depurination (and thus promoting spore survival) was further suggested by the demonstration that these proteins reduce the rate of DNA depurination in vitro at least 20-fold.
Spores of Clostridium perfringens possess high heat resistance, and when these spores germinate and return to active growth, they can cause gastrointestinal disease. Work with Bacillus subtilis has shown that the spore's dipicolinic acid (DPA) level can markedly influence both spore germination and resistance and that the proteins encoded by the spoVA operon are essential for DPA uptake by the developing spore during sporulation. We now find that proteins encoded by the spoVA operon are also essential for the uptake of Ca2+ and DPA into the developing spore during C. perfringens sporulation. Spores of a spoVA mutant had little, if any, Ca2+ and DPA, and their core water content was approximately twofold higher than that of wild-type spores. These DPA-less spores did not germinate spontaneously, as DPA-less B. subtilis spores do. Indeed, wild-type and spoVA C. perfringens spores germinated similarly with a mixture of l-asparagine and KCl (AK), KCl alone, or a 1:1 chelate of Ca2+ and DPA (Ca-DPA). However, the viability of C. perfringens spoVA spores was 20-fold lower than the viability of wild-type spores. Decoated wild-type and spoVA spores exhibited little, if any, germination with AK, KCl, or exogenous Ca-DPA, and their colony-forming efficiency was 103- to 104-fold lower than that of intact spores. However, lysozyme treatment rescued these decoated spores. Although the levels of DNA-protective α/β-type, small, acid-soluble spore proteins in spoVA spores were similar to those in wild-type spores, spoVA spores exhibited markedly lower resistance to moist heat, formaldehyde, HCl, hydrogen peroxide, nitrous acid, and UV radiation than wild-type spores did. In sum, these results suggest the following. (i) SpoVA proteins are essential for Ca-DPA uptake by developing spores during C. perfringens sporulation. (ii) SpoVA proteins and Ca-DPA release are not required for C. perfringens spore germination. (iii) A low spore core water content is essential for full resistance of C. perfringens spores to moist heat, UV radiation, and chemicals.
Bacillus spp. and Clostridium spp. form a specialized cell type, called a spore, during a multistep differentiation process that is initiated in response to starvation. Spores are protected by a morphologically complex protein coat. The Bacillus anthracis coat is of particular interest because the spore is the infective particle of anthrax. We determined the roles of several B. anthracis orthologues of Bacillus subtilis coat protein genes in spore assembly and virulence. One of these, cotE, has a striking function in B. anthracis: it guides the assembly of the exosporium, an outer structure encasing B. anthracis but not B. subtilis spores. However, CotE has only a modest role in coat protein assembly, in contrast to the B. subtilis orthologue. cotE mutant spores are fully virulent in animal models, indicating that the exosporium is dispensable for infection, at least in the context of a cotE mutation. This has implications for both the pathophysiology of the disease and next-generation therapeutics. CotH, which directs the assembly of an important subset of coat proteins in B. subtilis, also directs coat protein deposition in B. anthracis. Additionally, however, in B. anthracis, CotH effects germination; in its absence, more spores germinate than in the wild type. We also found that SpoIVA has a critical role in directing the assembly of the coat and exosporium to an area around the forespore. This function is very similar to that of the B. subtilis orthologue, which directs the assembly of the coat to the forespore. These results show that while B. anthracis and B. subtilis rely on a core of conserved morphogenetic proteins to guide coat formation, these proteins may also be important for species-specific differences in coat morphology. We further hypothesize that variations in conserved morphogenetic coat proteins may play roles in taxonomic variation among species.
Spores produced by bacilli are encased in a proteinaceous multilayered coat and, in some species (including Bacillus anthracis), further surrounded by a glycoprotein-containing exosporium. To characterize bacillus spore surface morphology and to identify proteins that direct formation of coat surface features, we used atomic-force microscopy (AFM) to image the surfaces of wild-type and mutant spores of Bacillus subtilis, as well as the spore surfaces of Bacillus cereus 569 and the Sterne strain of Bacillus anthracis. This analysis revealed that the coat surfaces in these strains are populated by a series of bumps ranging between 7 and 40 nm in diameter, depending on the species. Furthermore, a series of ridges encircled the spore, most of which were oriented along the long axis of the spore. The structures of these ridges differ sufficiently between species to permit species-specific identification. We propose that ridges are formed early in spore formation, when the spore volume likely decreases, and that when the spore swells during germination the ridges unfold. AFM analysis of a set of B. subtilis coat protein gene mutants revealed three coat proteins with roles in coat surface morphology: CotA, CotB, and CotE. Our data indicate novel roles for CotA and CotB in ridge pattern formation. Taken together, these results are consistent with the view that the coat is not inert. Rather, the coat is a dynamic structure that accommodates changes in spore volume.
Based on previous studies showing that host chemokines exert antimicrobial activities against bacteria, we sought to determine whether the interferon-inducible Glu-Leu-Arg-negative CXC chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 exhibit antimicrobial activities against Bacillus anthracis. In vitro analysis demonstrated that all three CXC chemokines exerted direct antimicrobial effects against B. anthracis spores and bacilli including marked reductions in spore and bacillus viability as determined using a fluorometric assay of bacterial viability and CFU determinations. Electron microscopy studies revealed that CXCL10-treated spores failed to undergo germination as judged by an absence of cytological changes in spore structure that occur during the process of germination. Immunogold labeling of CXCL10-treated spores demonstrated that the chemokine was located internal to the exosporium in association primarily with the spore coat and its interface with the cortex. To begin examining the potential biological relevance of chemokine-mediated antimicrobial activity, we used a murine model of inhalational anthrax. Upon spore challenge, the lungs of C57BL/6 mice (resistant to inhalational B. anthracis infection) had significantly higher levels of CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 than did the lungs of A/J mice (highly susceptible to infection). Increased CXC chemokine levels were associated with significantly reduced levels of spore germination within the lungs as determined by in vivo imaging. Taken together, our data demonstrate a novel antimicrobial role for host chemokines against B. anthracis that provides unique insight into host defense against inhalational anthrax; these data also support the notion for an innovative approach in treating B. anthracis infection as well as infections caused by other spore-forming organisms.
Clostridium perfringens food poisoning is caused mainly by enterotoxigenic type A isolates that typically possess high spore heat resistance. Previous studies have shown that α/β-type small, acid-soluble proteins (SASP) play a major role in the resistance of Bacillus subtilis and C. perfringens spores to moist heat, UV radiation, and some chemicals. Additional major factors in B. subtilis spore resistance are the spore's core water content and cortex peptidoglycan (PG) structure, with the latter properties modulated by the spm and dacB gene products and the sporulation temperature. In the current work, we have shown that the spm and dacB genes are expressed only during C. perfringens sporulation and have examined the effects of spm and dacB mutations and sporulation temperature on spore core water content and spore resistance to moist heat, UV radiation, and a number of chemicals. The results of these analyses indicate that for C. perfringens SM101 (i) core water content and, probably, cortex PG structure have little if any role in spore resistance to UV and formaldehyde, presumably because these spores’ DNA is saturated with α/β-type SASP; (ii) spore resistance to moist heat and nitrous acid is determined to a large extent by core water content and, probably, cortex structure; (iii) core water content and cortex PG cross-linking play little or no role in spore resistance to hydrogen peroxide; (iv) spore core water content decreases with higher sporulation temperatures, resulting in spores that are more resistant to moist heat; and (v) factors in addition to SpmAB, DacB, and sporulation temperature play roles in determining spore core water content and thus, spore resistance to moist heat.
During germination of spores of Bacillus species the degradation of the spore's pool of small, acid-soluble proteins (SASP) is initiated by a protease termed GPR, the product of the gpr gene. Bacillus megaterium and B. subtilis mutants with an inactivated gpr gene grew, sporulated, and triggered spore germination as did gpr+ strains. However, SASP degradation was very slow during germination of gpr mutant spores, and in rich media the time taken for spores to return to vegetative growth (defined as outgrowth) was much longer in gpr than in gpr+ spores. Not surprisingly, gpr spores had much lower rates of RNA and protein synthesis during outgrowth than did gpr+ spores, although both types of spores had similar levels of ATP. The rapid decrease in the number of negative supertwists in plasmid DNA seen during germination of gpr+ spores was also much slower in gpr spores. Additionally, UV irradiation of gpr B. subtilis spores early in germination generated significant amounts of spore photoproduct and only small amounts of thymine dimers (TT); in contrast UV irradiation of germinated gpr+ spores generated almost no spore photoproduct and three to four times more TT. Consequently, germinated gpr spores were more UV resistant than germinated gpr+ spores. Strikingly, the slow outgrowth phenotype of B. subtilis gpr spores was suppressed by the absence of major alpha/beta-type SASP. These data suggest that (i) alpha/beta-type SASP remain bound to much, although not all, of the chromosome in germinated gpr spores; (ii) the alpha/beta-type SASP bound to the chromosome in gpr spores alter this DNA's topology and UV photochemistry; and (iii) the presence of alpha/beta-type SASP on the chromosome is detrimental to normal spore outgrowth.
Dipicolinic acid (DPA) comprises ∼10% of the dry weight of spores of Bacillus species. Although DPA has long been implicated in spore resistance to wet heat and spore stability, definitive evidence on the role of this abundant molecule in spore properties has generally been lacking. Bacillus subtilis strain FB122 (sleB spoVF) produced very stable spores that lacked DPA, and sporulation of this strain with DPA yielded spores with nearly normal DPA levels. DPA-replete and DPA-less FB122 spores had similar levels of the DNA protective α/β-type small acid-soluble spore proteins (SASP), but the DPA-less spores lacked SASP-γ. The DPA-less FB122 spores exhibited similar UV resistance to the DPA-replete spores but had lower resistance to wet heat, dry heat, hydrogen peroxide, and desiccation. Neither wet heat nor hydrogen peroxide killed the DPA-less spores by DNA damage, but desiccation did. The inability to synthesize both DPA and most α/β-type SASP in strain PS3664 (sspA sspB sleB spoVF) resulted in spores that lost viability during sporulation, at least in part due to DNA damage. DPA-less PS3664 spores were more sensitive to wet heat than either DPA-less FB122 spores or DPA-replete PS3664 spores, and the latter also retained viability during sporulation. These and previous results indicate that, in addition to α/β-type SASP, DPA also is extremely important in spore resistance and stability and, further, that DPA has some specific role(s) in protecting spore DNA from damage. Specific roles for DPA in protecting spore DNA against damage may well have been a major driving force for the spore's accumulation of the high levels of this small molecule.
Pretreatment with ethidium bromide (5 μg/ml) followed by a water wash had no effect on unheated Bacillus subtilis spores, but the viability of these spores after heating was much lower than that of similarly heated spores exposed to water alone. The fate of water- or ethidium bromide-treated spores, unheated or heated, was followed by allowing them to germinate and outgrow in a minimal or a complex liquid medium. Spores exposed to ethidium bromide and then heated (85°C, 10 min) exhibited a developmental block during germination and outgrowth. Many of them were blocked at the stage when the bacterium emerged from the germinated spore. When 0.35 μg of ethidium bromide per ml was added to heated spores in the germination-growth medium, the outgrowth of heated spores was inhibited to the same extent as were pretreated spores. Ethidium bromide acted in the first hour of germination of heated spores since addition after this time was ineffective in inhibiting recovery events. Repair of heat-damaged spore DNA was detected during the first 2 h of germination. The addition of ethidium bromide (final concentration, 0.35 μg/ml) inhibited DNA repair during early outgrowth. Increased sensitivity of spores to heat after pretreatment with sublethal concentrations of ethidium bromide was due to the inhibition of the repair of heat-damaged DNA.
The start sites for transcription and translation of a Bacillus subtilis spore coat protein gene, cotT, were determined. The CotT protein was synthesized as a 10.1-kDa precursor which was processed to a coat polypeptide of 7.8 kDa. Insertional inactivation of the cotT gene resulted in spores with an altered appearance of the inner coat layers and slow germination in response to a germination solution containing fructose, glucose, and asparagine. Rates of germination in L-alanine and in Penassay broth were the same as that of the wild type. A strain containing the cotT gene on a low-copy-number plasmid produced spores with an excess of CotT precursor and a thickening of the striated inner coat. These spores responded poorly to all of the germinants mentioned above. A site-directed mutation of the codon at the processing site of CotT resulted in the accumulation of the precursor in sporulating cells and on the spores, but there was no effect on the germination rates or solvent resistance of these spores. Both the lack and the overproduction of CotT led to subtle alterations in the structure of the inner spore coat and in the capacity of spores to respond to particular germinants.
The dry-heat resistance of Bacillus subtilis var. niger spores located in or on various materials was determined as D and z values in the range of 105 through 160 C. The systems tested included spores located on steel and paper strips, spores located between stainless-steel washers mated together under 150 inch-lb and 12 inch-lb of torque, and spores encapsulated in methylmethacrylate and epoxy plastics. D values for a given temperature varied with the test system. High D values were observed for the systems in which spores were encapsulated or under heavy torque, whereas lower D values were observed for the steel and paper strip systems and the lightly torqued system. Similar z values were obtained for the plastic and steel strip systems (zD = 21 C), but an unusually low z for spores on paper (zD = 12.9 C) and an unusually high z for spores on steel washers mated at 150 inch-lb of torque (zD = 32 C) were observed. The effect of spore moisture content on the D value of spores encapsulated in water-impermeable plastic was determined, and maximal resistance was observed for spores with a water activity (aw) of 0.2 to 0.4. Significantly decreased D values were observed for spores with moisture contents below aw 0.2 or above aw 0.4. The data indicate that the important factors to be considered when measuring the dry heat resistance of spores are (i) the initial moisture content of the spore, (ii) the rate of spore desiccation during heating, (iii) the water retention capacity of the material in or on which spores are located, and (iv) the relative humidity of the system at the test temperature.
Small, acid-soluble proteins (SASP) of the alpha/beta-type are associated with DNA in spores of Bacillus subtilis. Induction of synthesis of alpha/beta-type SASP in Escherichia coli resulted in rapid cessation of DNA synthesis, followed by a halt in RNA and then protein accumulation, although significant mRNA and protein synthesis continued. There was a significant loss in viability associated with SASP synthesis in E. coli: recA+ cells became extremely long filaments, whereas recA mutant cells became less filamentous. The nucleoids of cells with alpha/beta-type SASP were extremely condensed, as viewed in both light and electron microscopes, and immunoelectron microscopy showed that the alpha/beta-type SASP were associated with the cell DNA. Induction of alpha/beta-type SASP synthesis in E. coli increased the negative superhelical density of plasmid DNA by approximately 20%; UV irradiation of E. coli with alpha/beta-type SASP gave reduced yields of thymine dimers but significant amounts of the spore photoproduct. These changes in E. coli DNA topology and photochemistry due to alpha/beta-type SASP are similar to the effects of alpha/beta-type SASP on the DNA in Bacillus spores, further suggesting that alpha/beta-type SASP are a major factor determining DNA properties in bacterial spores.
Variants of the wild-type Bacillus subtilis α/β-type small, acid-soluble spore protein (SASP) SspCwt were designed to evaluate the contribution of C-terminal residues to these proteins' affinity for DNA. SspC variants lacking one to three C-terminal residues were similar to SspCwt in DNA binding, but removal of six C-terminal residues greatly decreased DNA binding. In contrast, a C-terminal extension of three residues increased SspC's affinity for DNA 5- to 10-fold. C-terminal and N-terminal changes that independently caused large increases in SspC-DNA binding affinity were combined and produced an additive effect on DNA binding; the affinity of the resulting variant, SspCΔN11-D13K-C3, for DNA was increased ≥20-fold over that of SspCwt. For most of the SspC variants tested, lowering the pH from 7 to 6 improved DNA binding two- to sixfold, although the opposite effect was observed with variants having additional C-terminal basic residues. In vitro, the binding of SspCΔN11-D13K-C3 to DNA suppressed the formation of cyclobutane-type thymine dimers and promoted the formation of the spore photoproduct upon UV irradiation to the same degree as the binding of SspCwt. However, B. subtilis spores lacking major α/β-type SASP and overexpressing SspCΔN11-D13K-C3 had a 10-fold-lower viability and far less UV and heat resistance than spores overexpressing SspCwt. This apparent lack of DNA protection by SspCΔN11-D13K-C3 in vivo is likely due to the twofold-lower level of this protein in spores compared to the level of SspCwt, perhaps because of effects of SspCΔN11-D13K-C3 on gene expression in the forespore during sporulation. The latter results indicate that only moderately strong binding of α/β-type SASP to DNA is important to balance the potentially conflicting requirements for these proteins in DNA transcription and DNA protection during spore formation, spore dormancy, and spore germination and outgrowth.
Electron microscopy of thin sections of dormant and germinating spores of Bacillus subtilis 168 revealed a progressive change in the structure of the cortex, outer spore coat, and inner spore coat. The initial changes were observed in the cortex region, which showed a loose fibrous network within 10 min of germination, and in the outer spore coat, which began to be sloughed off. The permeability of the complex outer spore layers was modified within 10 min, since, at this time, the internal structures of the spore coat were readily stainable. A nicking degradation action of the laminated inner spore coat began at 20 min, and this progressed for the next 20 min leading to the loosening of the inner spore coat. By 30 min, the outer spore coat showed signs of disintegration, and at 40 min, both the outer and inner spore coats were degraded extensively. At 30 to 40 min, a period just preceding net deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis, mesosomes became very prominent in the inner spore core and the cell wall began to thicken around the spore core. At 50 min, an emerging cell was observed, and by 60 min, there was clear evidence for elongation of the emerging cell and the presence of two nuclear bodies. At 90 min, elongation had been followed by the first cell division. There was evidence for spore coat fragments at the opposite poles of the dividing cell.
The first Bacillus subtilis small, acid-soluble spore protein (SASP) gene has been cloned by using previously cloned B. megaterium SASP genes as DNA-DNA hybridization probes. Determination of the DNA sequence of the B. subtilis SASP gene showed that it codes for a 72-residue protein (termed SASP-1) containing a single spore protease cleavage site as well as other sequences conserved in Bacillus megaterium SASPs A, C, C-1, C-2, and C-3. The B. subtilis SASP-1 genes's coding sequence is preceded by a potential Bacillus ribosome-binding site, and is followed by a sequence that could form a stem-and-loop structure characteristic of transcription termination sites. Upstream from the coding sequence there are no obvious homologies with other B. subtilis sporulation genes, but similarities with B. megaterium SASP genes are evident. SASP-1 mRNA (290 bases long) is absent from vegetative cells, but appears midway in sporulation and then disappears. The cloned SASP-1 gene hybridizes to three bands other than the SASP-1 gene itself in EcoRI or HindIII digests of B. subtilis DNA. Presumably these other bands represent SASP genes related to the SASP-1 gene, and we have been able to detect at least three such proteins in B. subtilis spores.
To investigate the outermost structure of the Bacillus subtilis spore, we analyzed the accessibility of antibodies to proteins on spores of B. subtilis. Anti-green fluorescent protein (GFP) antibodies efficiently accessed GFP fused to CgeA or CotZ, which were previously assigned to the outermost layer termed the spore crust. However, anti-GFP antibodies did not bind to spores of strains expressing GFP fused to 14 outer coat, inner coat, or cortex proteins. Anti-CgeA antibodies bound to spores of wild-type and CgeA-GFP strains but not cgeA mutant spores. These results suggest that the spore crust covers the spore coat and is the externally exposed, outermost layer of the B. subtilis spore. We found that CotZ was essential for the spore crust to surround the spore but not for spore coat formation, indicating that CotZ plays a critical role in spore crust formation. In addition, we found that CotY-GFP was exposed on the surface of the spore, suggesting that CotY is an additional component of the spore crust. Moreover, the localization of CotY-GFP around the spore depended on CotZ, and CotY and CotZ depended on each other for spore assembly. Furthermore, a disruption of cotW affected the assembly of CotV-GFP, and a disruption of cotX affected the assembly of both CotV-GFP and CgeA-GFP. These results suggest that cgeA and genes in the cotVWXYZ cluster are involved in spore crust formation.
Effective control of spore-forming bacilli begs suitable physical or chemical methods. While many spore inactivation techniques have been proven effective, electron beam (EB) irradiation has been frequently chosen to eradicate Bacillus spores. Despite its widespread use, there are limited data evaluating the effects of EB irradiation on Bacillus spores. To study this, B. atrophaeus spores were purified, suspended in sterile, distilled water, and irradiated with EB (up to 20 kGy). Irradiated spores were found (1) to contain structural damage as observed by electron microscopy, (2) to have spilled cytoplasmic contents as measured by spectroscopy, (3) to have reduced membrane integrity as determined by fluorescence cytometry, and (4) to have fragmented genomic DNA as measured by gel electrophoresis, all in a dose-dependent manner. Additionally, cytometry data reveal decreased spore size, increased surface alterations, and increased uptake of propidium iodide, with increasing EB dose, suggesting spore coat alterations with membrane damage, prior to loss of spore viability. The present study suggests that EB irradiation of spores in water results in substantial structural damage of the spore coat and inner membrane, and that, along with DNA fragmentation, results in dose-dependent spore inactivation.
Spores of Bacillus subtilis spoVF strains that cannot synthesize dipicolinic acid (DPA) but take it up during sporulation were prepared in medium with various DPA concentrations, and the germination and viability of these spores as well as the DPA content in individual spores were measured. Levels of some other small molecules in DPA-less spores were also measured. These studies have allowed the following conclusions. (i) Spores with no DPA or low DPA levels that lack either the cortex-lytic enzyme (CLE) SleB or the receptors that respond to nutrient germinants could be isolated but were unstable and spontaneously initiated early steps in spore germination. (ii) Spores that lacked SleB and nutrient germinant receptors and also had low DPA levels were more stable. (iii) Spontaneous germination of spores with no DPA or low DPA levels was at least in part via activation of SleB. (iv) The other redundant CLE, CwlJ, was activated only by the release of high levels of DPA from spores. (v) Low levels of DPA were sufficient for the viability of spores that lacked most α/β-type small, acid-soluble spore proteins. (vi) DPA levels accumulated in spores prepared in low-DPA-containing media varied greatly between individual spores, in contrast to the presence of more homogeneous DPA levels in individual spores made in media with high DPA concentrations. (vii) At least the great majority of spores of several spoVF strains that contained no DPA also lacked other major spore small molecules and had gone through some of the early reactions in spore germination.
Highly conserved amino acid residues in the C subunits of the germinant receptors (GRs) of spores of Bacillus and Clostridium species have been identified by amino acid sequence comparisons, as well as structural predictions based on the high-resolution structure recently determined for the C subunit of the Bacillus subtilis GerB GR (GerBC). Single and multiple alanine substitutions were made in these conserved residues in three regions of GerBC, and the effects of these changes on B. subtilis spore germination via the GerB GR alone or in concert with the GerK GR, as well as on germination via the GerA GR, were determined. In addition, levels of the GerBC variants in the spore inner membrane were measured, and a number of the GerBC proteins were expressed and purified and their solubility and aggregation status were assessed. This work has done the following: (i) identified a number of conserved amino acids that are crucial for GerBC function in spore germination via the GerB GR and that do not alter spores' levels of these GerBC variants; (ii) identified other conserved GerBC amino acid essential for the proper folding of the protein and/or for assembly of GerBC in the spore inner membrane; (iii) shown that some alanine substitutions in GerBC significantly decrease the GerA GR's responsiveness to its germinant l-valine, consistent with there being some type of interaction between GerA and GerB GR subunits in spores; and (iv) found no alanine substitutions that specifically affect interaction between the GerB and GerK GRs.